There is no mot juste for what drives an audio junky. For some it's almost sexual, or like a crazy kind of toxic candy that hits the senses from inside the gut and rises slowly, collecting goose bumps along the way, until it sort of erupts in the head and transcends place and time. When music you love sounds perfect, there's nowhere else to go.
The argument is that star "audiophiles" including Axl Rose, Jack White, Neil Young, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder and Norah Jones and others, and countless music producers such as Rick Rubin, understand that when you hear music how it should sound — that is, how the artists wanted you to hear it — you'll give yourself over to its power and pull.
For some, high-end audio starts at an iPod wired through bad computer speakers and ends at an entry-level audiophile stereo and turntable; or it continues on to become a hobby, or a full-on obsessive chase for some unattainable sonic holy grail, a monomania not easily kept in check — but hey, at least it's legal.
The annual, well-organized AKFest 2010 in Novi accommodates those wants, hobbies, and personal monomainias, and offers what's basically an audio fetishist's dream. Look for more than 40 hotel rooms on multiple floors outfitted with clean lines from dozens of manufacturers such as Holland's Yara Design and U.K.'s Harbeth or American companies' McIntosh Labs and Wadia Digital, or the Michigan-based tube amp specialists of Nos Valves. Stroll room-to-room and discover the best in digital download technology, LP-based or digital component systems, from modestly priced to the stupid, sell-your-house kind. Two rooms will feature home theater/surround.
AKFest is sponsored by the locally based audio forum Audio Karma (audiokarma.org), a site boasting more than 49,000 members worldwide. The forum caters to many audio do-it-yourselfers, and goes lengths to erase misleading clichés that the audio hobby is but overpriced elitist toy fodder for rich folk.
AKFest chief organizer Dave "Grumpy" Goldstein agrees and says much of the fest reflects that attitude. In fact, the fest has grown from a local beer-drinking get-together in 2003 to the Midwest's ace audio event that's gaining international traction and youth interest. But that rise hasn't been easy.
"We've been bustin' our ass to stay afloat, Goldstein says. "About 25 percent" of those showing at AKfest now are Michigan-based manufacturers or dealers so there was no way the fest could stay local.
In last year's sour economy, the fest drew nearly 1,000 paid attendees and Goldstein says more than half were out-of-state.
If you come, as the AKFest site says, "Don't be shy about asking the room host about his or her system. The exhibitors are there for you. You can arrange to purchase almost anything you see." There'll be swap rooms selling gear, used vinyl and CDs. Bring your favorite music to try out different systems.
"It's about as much fun as a bunch of audio geeks can have," Goldstein says.
Saturday, May 1, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, May 2, from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Live music on Saturday evening from the David Gerald Band. Tickets are $20 at the door. At the Novi Sheraton, 2111 Haggerty Rd., Novi. Look at akfest.org for more info.